Monday, November 16, 2009

`Furthest, Fairest Things'

“Furthest, fairest things, stars, free of our humbug,
each his own, the longer known the more alone,
wrapt in emphatic fire roaring out to a black flue.”

In flitting reveries I sometimes think my favorite poet is Basil Bunting, the Northumbrian who published his masterwork, Briggflatts, at age 66, written while he worked as a journalist in Newcastle. Then I remember Donne, Hopkins and Eliot, and return to my senses, briefly. When I read Bunting I know poetry can’t get better, more concise and musical, with words pinned to things like beetles in a drawer. Poetry is seldom so interesting and so there, on the page and in the ear.

Earlier this year, Bloodaxe Books published a deluxe edition of Briggflatts including a CD with an audio recording of Bunting reading the poem in 1967 and a DVD of Peter Bell’s 1982 film about the poet. Go here for more information about the new edition and for links to audio and video recordings of Bunting reading Briggflatts.

I lusted after such an indulgence but frugality preserved my budget. Out of nowhere – rather, out of the UK – a reader wrote me on Sunday to say he wants to send me the new Briggflatts with all the trimmings. Sometimes all one can say is “thank you.” My generous reader writes:

“I'll be going home to Elgin at Christmas (Johnson and Boswell passed through in 1775, Borges in 1965). Before the drive north from Edinburgh I hope to make an excursion south to Briggflatts, Lindisfarne, and perhaps Duns too.”

Fortunate man -- itinerary as pilgrimage.There’s more history in those two sentences than in the textbooks. These lines from Section V of Briggflatts follow the lines quoted at the top of this post:

“Each spark trills on a tone beyond chronological compass,
yet in a sextant's bubble present and firm
places a surveyor's stone or steadies a tiller.
Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone,
its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane
spider floss on my cheek; light from the zenith
spun when the slowworm lay in her lap
fifty years ago.”


William A. Sigler said...

"Fierce blood throbs on his tongue / lean words" (Bunting).

As you indicate, your reader's pilgrimage around the Northumberland joint connecting England and Scotland is through the richest of poetic traditions, from "Chevy Chase" (what Ben Jonson offered to give away all his words to have written):

"Their bodies bathed in purple gore
They bore with them away;
They kissed their dead a thousand times
When they were clad in clay."

To Sean O’Brien

"Messages unread, a century
From now: Today a cloudburst settling
Its anvil on the slates,
Then longer, softer rain – I cannot tell you how –
Is like the piano-islands
In the pond. Ad
Maiorem Pluvii gloriam.

waqas awan said...

Briliant William